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On a hot sunny afternoon the mechanic was taking out the flat tyre from the scooter. Girdhari was bored of the sight. He had already seen it several times. He asked Dad, why do you call me, Girdhari. All my other friends have smart names like Pappu, Bunty, Raju, Bablu, Santu etc. Dad replied, Girdhari ! I call you Girdhari Lal ! Any problems with that ? Girdhari replied, I like Ganeshi Lal. Why don’t you call me Ganeshi ? Dad smiled, why do you like this name ? Girdhari replied, God Ganesh loves eating laddus (a famous Indian sweet) and he is not beautiful, just like me. Dad pulled Girdhari’s cheeks and said, all Gods and all children are beautiful. What else do you know about Ganesh ? Girdhari tried to remember..
Ganesh or Vinayak or Ganapati is worshipped by Hindus, Buddhists and Jains in all around the world. His statues can be seen in India, Philippines, Thailand, Bangladesh, Fiji, Nepal, Trinidad and Tobago, Indonesia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Mauritius, Guyana. Ganesh is easily identified for his elephant head. He is believed to bring good luck and remove all obstacles. He, being the God of fresh start, is invoked by all people while purchasing/construction of new house, bringing new car home or starting a new business/office or factory. Om Shri Ganeshaay Namah (Om, obeisance to the paramount Ganesh) is chanted by dancers, musicians and singers before beginning of their on stage performances.
Traditionally, people worship their beloved elephant God during Ganapati festival, also known as Vinayak Chaturthi or Ganesh Chaturthi. On this day, it is believed that Ganesh accompanied by his mother, Gauri leaves Mount Kailash and reaches earth to bless his devotees. For this reason, in some homes, during this festival, Gauri, mother of Ganesh is also worshipped alongside Ganesh. Records have been found of this festival being celebrated during the times of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. In earlier days, devotees used to install clay statues of Ganesh inside their homes and pray for ten days. Lokmanya Tilak, in 1893 in Pune, started the tradition of celebrating Ganeshotsav in elaborate pandals (makeshift stages) by involving huge gathering of people.
People fast and offer daily prayers to their favourite deity. Modak (a famous sweet), considered to be favourite of God Ganesh is offered as prasad. A modak is prepared after dumpling made with rice flour is stuffed with condiments, jaggery, dried fruits, grated coconut and steamed. On tenth day of this festival, the idol of Ganesh is carried in a public procession with loud cries of Ganapati Bappa Morya, Pudhchyaa Varshi Laukaryaa ( o, our dear father Ganesh, come quickly next year). The idols are immersed in a river, pond or sea. Ganesh is assumed to reach Mount Kailash to his parents, Shiv and Parvati. Siddhi Vinayak temple in Mumbai and Shreemant Dagdusheth Halwai Ganapati temple in Pune are some famous temples of God Ganesh.
A family was praying to Ganesh inside its home with full concentration and devotion :
Jai Ganesh, jai Ganesh, jai Ganesh devaa
Mata jaaki Parvati, Pita Mahadeva
Ekdant dayawant, chaar bhuja dhaari
Maathe sindoor sohe, moos ki sawaari
It roughly meant, we pray to God Ganesh, son of Goddess Parvati and God Mahadev. God Ganesh, the benevolent one with four arms and one tooth, his forehead smeared with vermillion, moves sitting on a rodent !
Maverick Yogi, wishes you, dear reader, a very happy Ganeshotsav !
Watch it, Friends..
Didi and her friend Leena were busy. Little Girdhari was enjoying the attention. Leena put a Morpankh (peacock feather) into Girdhari’s pagdi (headgear). Didi put a bamboo flute in Girdhari’s palm which he immediately threw off. Leena and Didi were busy turning Girdhari into Laddu Gopal (baby Krishna). Didi was satisfied. Today was Shri Krishna Janmaashtami. Didi and Maa were fasting. Girdhari felt proud as he took first few steps as Krishna. Everybody was in great mood to celebrate God Krishna’s birth.
God Krishna’s birth story is very interesting. Approximately some 5,000 years ago, mighty Kans was the ruler of the kingdom of Mathura. His rule was that of terror, intimidation and sheer torture of Mathura’s innocent citizens. People had enough of his brutal rule. They were calling God to help them, loudly and silently, in their prayers. God takes care of its followers, always. A loud prediction was done for Kans. The celestial voice told Kans that his sister, Devaki’s eighth child would kill Kans. An enraged Kans tried to kill his sister but was stopped by Devaki’s husband, Vasudev. Vasudev promised to hand over each one of their child to Kans. Devaki and Vasudev were imprisoned by the king of Mathura, Kans. Kans killed each of his six nephews. Their seventh child, Balram (Balbhadra) survived miraculously by the blessings of God Vishnu.
When Devaki delivered her eighth son in her prison cell, Vasudev got worried about their newborn son’s safety. His worries turned out to be unfounded. Their handcuffs opened, the locks of their prison door opened, the security guards inside the prison slept peacefully. Vasudev wrapped the little baby boy in silk and put him inside a wooden basket and started walking out. Vasudev was carrying the wooden basket on his head in the heavily raining night, crossed Yamuna river and came to his cousin, Nand’s house in Gokul. Nand’s wife, Yashoda had delivered a girl some hours back. The infant and her parents were fast asleep. Vasudev exchanged the babies and reached safely inside his cell in Mathura’s prison with baby girl. Morning Kans picked up his newly born niece and tried to kill her. The baby girl slipped out of the hands of Kans and flew up in the sky. In her place an eight armed Goddess Yogmaya appeared and told Kans. She said, ‘Kans, you fool ! Your killer has already been born elsewhere and your death at his hands is confirmed.’ In Gokul, under the deep love and care of Nand and Yashoda, Krishna grew up. Later Krishna along with his elder brother, Balram reached Mathura and killed Kans. The prison cell where God Krishna was born is known today as Krishna Janmasthan Temple Complex in Mathura.
Shri Krishna Janmaashtami or Janmaashtami is celebrated to welcome baby Krishna in this world. In the midnight, households and temples wash Laddu Gopal (baby Krishna) idols, decorate them with new clothes, jewellery and position them on swings. Devotees distribute prasaad / bhog (sweet offerings) and break their fast. On this occasion Raas–Leela is organised in places and regions like Mathura, Vrindavan, Rajasthan, Manipur, Gujarat, Assam and other areas. Maharashtra celebrates this auspicious day as Gokulashtami. People celebrate it by breaking Dahi–Handi (pot of yogurt). In Odisha’s Puri region and West Bengal’s Nabadwip region, this festival is celebrated as Shri Jayanti.
Girdhari came out of his house in baby Krishna’s avatar and a murmur of excitement grew amongst the crowd. He walked slowly towards the stage. People started showering rose petals on Girdhari, a group of followers started blowing their conch shells, some started playing their flute while some others simply clapped rapturously. Women started coming forward and touching little Girdhari’s feet, tickling his feet. Loud cries of Nand me aanand bhayo, jai Kanhaiyalaal ki = Haathi ghoda paalki, jai Kanhaiyalaal ki went up in the air.
Maverick Yogi wishes you, dear reader and your family a very happy Shri Krishna Janmaashtami.
The old Panditji was tying a thick yellow thread on Bhaiya’s right wrist. Bhaiya had recently told Girdhari several times that traditionally only Panditji tied the sacred thread on everybody’s wrist on Raakhi day. But Girdhari said that sisters of all his neighbourhood friends would tie big colourful Raakhi on their brother’s wrist and Girdhari wished the same for himself. Panditji looked at his wrist watch. Girdhari was crying hoarse, Raakhi, Raakhi, Raakhi… Panditji was looking at Girdhari while loudly chanting a mantra, ‘Yen baddho Bali raja daanvendro mahaabalah, Ten tvaam pratibadhnaami rakshe maachal, maachalah.’ It meant, “my patron, I tie you with the same protective thread with which the mighty famous king Bali was tied. O Rakshe (Raakhi), you stay put, don’t move.” Now the Panditji was tying the thread on Didi’s left wrist. Girdhari was crying non-stop, Maa – Raakhi, Raakhi, Raakhi… Didi started laughing at Girdhari’s antics. The old Panditji gestured Girdhari to come and sit on the chair. Girdhari started rolling on the floor while shouting and crying simultaneously, Bhaiya – Raakhi, Raakhi, Raakhi. A tired Mom gave money to Jeebu to purchase Raakhi for Girdhari. As if on cue, a song started playing on the radio, Bhaiya mere Raakhi ke bandhan ko nibhana.
Raakhi or Raksha Bandhan is celebrated globally in the Hindu community on the day of Shraavan Poornima (full moon day of Hindu month, saawan). This sister-brother festival is closely related to other similar festivals like Bhai-Dooj and Sama-Chakeba. Bhai-Dooj is a globally famous festival but very few know of another festival related to brothers, sisters and birds. When the birds begin their migration in the month of November, Sama-Chakeba is celebrated with great fervour in Mithilaanchal (in India and Nepal).
Raakhi is derived from Sanskrit word, Rakshika (protector). Raakhi festival’s origin goes long back. It was first mentioned in 1829 in James Tod’s famous book, Annals & Antiquities Of Rajasthan. Harvard anthropologist, Michael Jackson has written that while traditional north Indian families do not have a Father’s, Mother’s or Valentine’s Day, there is a Sister’s Day, known as Raksha Bandhan. Another American anthropologist, Mckim Marriott has described Saluno festival in Haryana. Many husbands reach their sasural (wife’s native house) on Saluno day to take their wives with them. The wives along with their unmarried sisters show their love and devotion to their brothers by placing fresh shoots of barley on the heads and ears of their brothers. The brothers reciprocate this kind gesture with small coins.
Raakhi is celebrated in West Bengal as Jhulan Poornima. God baby Krishna is placed on a jhoola (swing) and is venerated by the devotees. Koli community in coastal Maharashtra celebrates Raakhi as Narali Poornima (coconut festival) as their prayers to God Varun (God of Sea). Nepal celebrates Raakhi as Janayi Poornima or Rishitarpani. On this day, Hindu men change the thread (Janeu) that they wear around their chests. Dear reader, you must have heard or read a famous story associated with Raakhi festival. It is said that Bahadur Shah, ruler of Gujarat attacked Chittor(Rajasthan) in 1534 A.D. Rani Karnavati (the queen and ruler of Chittor) sent a Raakhi to Mughal king, Humayun, seeking his help in fending off Bahadur Shah. But this story has not been supported with any historical fact. The fact is that on 8th March, 1534 A.D, Bahadur Shah ransacked Chittorgarh fort while Rani Karnavati and other women committed Jauhar (self-immolation).
Girdhari sat happily in front of Didi, excited finally. Didi finally tied a big and colourful Raakhi on Girdhari’s wrist, did Aarti and Pooja of her brother, fed one Laddu (a famous sweet) in his mouth. Girdhari looked proudly at the Raakhi on his wrist. He ran outside to show off his beautiful Raakhi to his friends. A new song started playing on the radio, Behna ne bhai ki kalaayi pe pyaar baandha hai.
Maverick Yogi wishes you, dear reader, a very happy Raksha-Bandhan !
Presenting my debut novel to you..
Aao bachhon tumhein dikhaayen jhaanki Hindustaan ki was being played on radio now. Birds were chirping merrily outside. The sun was hiding behind the clouds. Cool breeze was blowing. Girdhari turned around to sleep for some more time. And then it started. It was a ritual which nobody could escape. He could hear the song, mere desh ki dharti sona ugley being played on a loud speaker clearly now. He tried to catch some sleep. It was futile – his attempts at sleeping. He could not sleep now. He remembered he had to rush to school. Girdhari jumped out of his bed. It was 15th August today – Independence Day of India !
All the students of the school were standing in their designated rows in the big playground. School teachers and other school staff were all alert. Their eyes were specially focussed on the bullies, notorious students of classes 9th and 10th. Girdhari was standing in the row of the 5th class students. His eyes too were focussed on the small door of his school. Jahaan daal daal pe sone ki chidiya karti hai basera was playing on the loudspeakers in the school. The door opened. A sigh of murmur in excitement went around the whole playground. Two men were carrying a big aluminium utensil towards a big table. Another set of two men were carrying a huge bamboo basket. Girdhar wiped his lips with his tongue in anticipation. The stage was set and all that they needed was the arrival of their principal.
The school principal was ready near the flagpole. Two teachers were standing right behind him, in case he needed any help. The principal took a step forward and unfurled the flag. The tricolour opened, rose petals fell off from it and the principal saluted the Indian flag. Girdhari was ready. On cue the two teachers standing behind the principal started singing the national anthem – Jan Gan Man Adhinayak Jay Hey. After the national anthem was sung the four men manning the big table were ready. The students of section ‘A’ of class 5th were being led near the table by the class teacher. Girdhari sighed aloud at his misery. He had to wait for his turn as he was a student of section ‘E’. Girdhari received Singhada and Jalebi in a cone made of leaves from the staff near the wooden table. Wow, it tasted divine he thought. It was time to move, now.
Girdhari along with other students of his section was walking on the main road under the eyes of his class teacher. Ye desh hai veer jawaano ka was playing on the speakers kept out of a big shop. He could see students of other schools walking in queues on the roads now. Everybody was marching towards Sandy’s Compound, the big field of the town meant for huge gatherings. The whole atmosphere was festive. Several ropes tied with tricolour festoons, balloons and banners were beautifying the skyline. Outside the venue several loudspeakers were playing, Bharat ka rehnewala hoon, Bharat ki baat sunata hoon.
As soon as the official function got over Girdhari and other students ran towards khomchewallahs (snacks on handcarts). Their treasure trove was here. Bhaiya was there for Girdhari. Other parents were also there to fetch their wards. Bhaiya took Girdhari to his favourite foodstall, the phuchka (Paani Poori/Golgappa). Girdhari ate phuchkas to his hearts’ content. And then arrived the moment which Girdhari dreaded the most. Girdhari was standing outside a toy handcart. Bhaiya’s look said it all. A big, NO. Girdhari picked up a yellow aeroplane. NO. he picked up a green vintage car. NO. He selected a red rubber ball. NO. To make Bhaiya buy a toy for him was an impossible task. Both of them were walking towards their house now. Bhaiya looked at Girdhari’s sullen face and smiled. He gave a fresh grey coloured spin top to Girdhari. A surprised Girdhari jumped up with joy. Bhaiya started laughing too. The loudspeakers on the road were playing, Insaaf ki dagar pe, bachhon dikhao chal ke..
Dear reader, wishing you a great 75th Indian Independence Day !
She was looking resplendent in her new dress being the cynosure of all eyes. Kids were being impatient and uncontrollable with all the excitement around. They wanted it to happen quickly so that they could begin playing all over again. Mumma started looking for the apple of her eyes. She got alarmed, where was Titli ? She didn’t wish to alert others yet but where was her darling baby. She heard the commotion and smiled. Titli was hiding behind the mound of gifts and her friends had found her. He clapped loudly and the kiddie gang arrived. The table was set with a birthday cake in the centre with thin burning candles on top. Titli bent down to blow the candles. She did it with aplomb and got cheered with claps and the birthday song. Dad fired the confetti party popper and the celebration resumed. The guests were relishing dinner. A small boy came and asked Titli’s Mumma, aunty, why do we celebrate birthdays ?
A birthday, in actuality, is the anniversary of the birth of a person. Birthdays are synonymous with gifts, hugs, birthday parties and birthday cards. There is a great deal of difference between a birthdate and a birthday though. Birthday takes place every year for everybody except people born on 29 February. The birthdate means the real date when a person was born ; for example, 8 May, 2004
In United States and Canada, families throw a bash for Sweet Sixteen celebration along with a girl’s 16th birthday. In Hispanic countries, a girl’s 15th birthday calls for a big celebration. Japanese children celebrate Coming of Age Day with their 20th birthday. In Jewish families, girls have a Bat Mitzvah celebration on their 12th birthday while boys have a Bar Mitzvah party on their 13th birthday. Dear reader, do you know that in Ghana, in their birthday party children eat a dish, Kelewele made of fried banana chunks !
Different communities, all around the globe, celebrate birthday of their gods and venerated personalities. Jesus Christ’s birthday is celebrated as Christmas. Muslims celebrate prophet Muhammad’s birthday as Mawlid. Sikhs celebrate Guru Nanak Dev Ji Gurpurab. Buddhists celebrate Vesak on Buddha’s birthday. In Indian subcontinent, god Krishna’s birthday is celebrated as Krishn Janmaashtami.
Not to be outdone by individuals, nations celebrate their birthday too. Americans celebrate their Independence Day on July 4. The Chinese celebrate their National day on October 1. Canada celebrates Canada Day on July 1. Indians celebrate their Independence Day on August 15. Today, the whole world has come together on July 10 to wish the citizens of Bahamas, Happy Independence Day !
The tradition of putting candles on birthday cakes is ancient, so as to speak. In ancient times, early Greeks worshipped the moon goddess, Artemis. Round cakes were baked by them to symbolise the moon and candles were added on top as tribute to the reflected moonlight. A person’s birthday is celebrated by the family and friends with a beautiful cake with the same number of lit candles or a numbered candle representing the birthday girl’s age. The birthday boy or girl makes a silent wish and attempts to blow out the candles in one breath. The silent wish is kept secret or it won’t come true.
Dear reader, can there be a birthday celebration bereft of the birthday song ? The last stanza of Mildred Hill and Patty Hill’s famous song, Good Morning to You is sung by guests at almost all birthday parties. And in this birthday party too, the last stanza was sung with modification :
Happy Birthday to You
Happy Birthday to You
Happy Birthday Dear Titli
Happy Birthday to You.
From good friends and true,
From old friends and new,
May good luck go with you,
And happiness too.
Janaki Express train was standing for an inordinate time at Muktapur railway station. Summer vacation had started with schools being closed. Girdhari asked in a voice full of boredom, Sakri kab aayega (When will we reach Sakri) ? Bhaiya (elder brother) replied in equally bored voice, Abhi toh Samastipur se nikle he hain. Kuch khaaoge (We are barely out of Samastipur. Wanna eat something) ? Girdhari smiled, Sakri mein (I will, in Sakri). The steam engine spewed lots of black plume of smoke, hissed angrily like a dragon, whistled twice and began moving slowly out of the station. The train engine’s sound was remembered not just by Girdhari but by everybody those days, Chhakad Chhak – Chhuk, Chhuk, Chhakad Chhak – Chhuk, Chhuk. Train finally reached Sakri junction.
Girdhari found Sakri magical. It conjured up image of spellbinding allure for everybody. Sakri was famous for two things. First, it’s mouth watering Kachri – Aaloo Chop combo of snacks. And second was that of Janki Express splitting into two trains. First five coaches of Janki Express were named Sakri – Jaynagar Express. Last five coaches belonged to Sakri – Nirmali Express. Bhaiya and Girdhari were seated in the 9th coach en route to Jhanjharpur. Girdhari finished the snacks quickly, drank water to his heart’s content. In Jhanjharpur R.S. (railway station) market, Bhaiya stopped a Taanga. Girdhari sat in the front. He could watch the mango orchards on both sides of the road and both the horses’ movement as well. All the mango trees were laden heavily with the king of fruits. Girdhari’s heart started beating faster. They were approaching the wonderland called Simra.
Vardhan, Appu and Neeraj ran towards the Taanga. Appu started patting the horse. Neeraj started clapping out of excitement while Vardhan was looking closely at Girdhari. All the cousins were around 8-9 years old. Vardhan dashed quickly to touch Bhaiya’s feet. Appu and Neeraj followed suit. Bhaiya looked sternly at Appu and said, padhna likhna saadhe baayis, kya ji Appu (no studying but playing all the time, Appu). Appu shivered in fear. They entered their Angna (a combined unit of four ancestral houses). Girdhari touched Dad, Mom and Didi’s (elder sister) feet. He washed his feet and reached Siraagu Ghar (the room for the divine deity). He kept a coin in front of the deity, Maa Bhairavi, closed his eyes and prayed. One by one Girdhari reached the other three houses of his Angna to touch all the elders’ feet. As soon as he came out of the fourth house, he found them waiting. Appu, Neeraj and Vardhan sprinted towards their Pokhar (pond owned by their family). All four of them stood at the corner, observing the Pokhar closely. The water level was down in the summer. Now, Girdhari was looking at the ancient Jaayith (high wooden pole in the centre of the pond) with four metallic birds rotating in circular motion on its top. They were waiting in anticipation. Girdhari said, Poorba bahaye chhaye (eastern wind is blowing) ! And Neeraj, Vardhan and Appu started laughing, as never before, on that hot May evening. It was an annual ritual with them. Girdhari had difficulty sleeping in the night in the Dalaan (Angnaa’s outhouse for guests and visitors), waiting eagerly for the dawn.
In the morning, a visit to a mango orchard was due. Girdhari and his gang reached Pokhari Mahaar (bank of the pond). They plucked some twigs from a Babool (Gum Arabic) tree and bang started the community Daatun (brushing of teeth). They reached Labgochli mango orchard. The Bagwaar (caretaker of the orchard) offered them some cleaned, raw Fazli mangoes. He offered to cut the mangoes into pieces but Neeraj did the honours himself with a knife. These mango pieces were raw and unripened but they tasted sweet, nonetheless. The gang was now joined by Diggu, Raja, Udho and Nanhe from other Angnaas. One by one, they ran and jumped into the Pokhar. They were busy swimming and frolicking in the cool waters, losing sense of time. Bhaiya threatened them when they grudgingly came out of the water. It was breakfast time now. Kaaki (paternal aunt) served Diggu, Vardhan, Raja and Neeraj, Choora – Aam – Achaar (flattened rice with mango pulp and pickles) in a big brass plate. Appu, Nanhe, Udho and Girdhari attcked Roti – Doodh – Aam (wheat Chapaties soaked in mango pulp and milk) served in a big brass plate. A Bamboo basket full of ripe Maldah mangoes was kept next to them.
Girdhari and his boisterous gang of cousins got bored of reading old copies of kiddie magazines, Paraag, Nandan, Lot Pot, Champak, Baal Bharati, Chanda Mama and biographies of revolutionaries when they heard commotion inside. The girl gang of Minni, Leena, Shaivya, Julie, Bela and Ruchi were playing a game near Madba (a four pillored roofed structure meant for wedding and Puja). Appu, Neeraj, Girdhari and Vardhan joined their cousins in the game. They were playing while singing,
Daakiye ne kya kiya,
Sau rupaye ki ghadi churaayi,
Ab toh jail mein jaana padega.
(What crime has the postman committed ? He has stolen a watch worth one hundred rupees. And now, poor fella has to do time in prison.) The players took a break in the evening, to take a quick bite of Choora Bhoonja and Ghughni (famous Bihari snacks). As they were catching up with each other, they heard the loud sound of the gong. The boys quickly washed their hands and mouths and ran towards the Radha-Krishna temple. They boys had a sort of competition to play the Gharighant (big gong bell) while the Pujariji (temple priest) was playing the ghanti (handbell) and doing the Aarti (worshipping the deities).
Girdhari had no idea that a month had passed. He went to attend a wedding in Darima village and ended up staying for weeks in the house of his Mausi (mother’s sister) there. From Darima, a trip to his Maatrik (Mama/mother’s brother), Kamalpur was due. As it was, both the Mamas doted on Girdhari. Plus Kamalpur had several attractions ; Dhaar (small river), Gaachi (mango orchards), Haat (temporary rural market) and Manmohan bridge. Girdhari was always reluctant to return to his city. The return journey was painful and heart breaking. He wondered why couldn’t he stay back in Simra, forever.
Girdhari was sitting in his city school’s classroom. Kaun jawaab dega (who has got the answer), thundered Banmali Sir. Girdhari stood up and started confidently explaining how the great Maratha king, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj escaped from his house arrest in Agra. The whole class burst out laughing. Girdhari stopped to catch breath. Banmali Sir was watching him while the whole class was rolling in laughter. Was Girdhari wrong with his interpolation, no, certainly not. He began explaining again. This time Banmali Sir starting swaying with laughter on his chair. Girdhari was silent while looking miserable. Banmali Sir said while barely controlling his laughter, kya re Girdhari, tum jawaab Maithili Bhasha mein de raha hai, Hindi mein nahin (Hey Girdhari boy, why are you giving your answer in Maithili language instead of Hindi) ! Saare vidyarthi summer vacation mana ke July mein class me aa gaye. Aur tumhara Simra Vacation, har saal, September mein khatm hota hai (All the students resumed their classes in July after their summer vacation got over. And your Simra vacation gets over only in September, year after year) ! Girdhari smiled organically. Aah, the memories from his wonderland. Simra always brought smile back on his face.